Crowdfunding using sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com has been all the rage lately, but I have long suspected that the excitement (and the hype) has overtaken the reality. If you poke around these sites, you'll see some remarkable examples of companies doing extremely well pursuing their crowdfunding dreams. But look past those few examples which tend to be prominently displayed for all to see, and you'll find that the vast majority of these crowdfunding efforts don't do much at all.
There's an article in today's Washington Post about one such example -- Thor Cheston, who turned to Indiegogo to raise the $125,000 that he urgently needed to fund his Right Proper Brew Pub neighborhood brewery, bar, and restaurant. According to Cheston, he chose Indiegogo because this site allows entrepreneurs to keep whatever funds they raise, even if they don’t meet their funding goal. Kickstarter, on the other hand, uses an “all-or-nothing” model that releases cash to the entrepreneur only if a pre-determined funding goal is reached within a certain number of days.
Cheston did everything by the numbers to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign: he created a compelling video for the campaign, lined up endorsers, and tweeted and Facebooked like it was going out of style.
By the end of the campaign, Cheston raised just $7,565 -- mostly from friends and family. (Two ex-girlfriends contributed $500 each!)
While $7,565 was better than nothing, it was far short of the $125,000 needed. Cheston was able to at least purchase some brewing equipment, barrels, kegs, and a blending tank with the crowdfunding proceeds.
Faced with a serious shortfall in funding, Cheston went out to the private equity market, where he raised the funds he needed. Says Cheston about his experience, "I was a little disappointed. If we were to do this again, we probably would just have focused on one specific piece of what we needed, not the entire brew house. People look at that gigantic number and think, well, they’re never going to make it.”
So while crowdfunding might be worth a try, keep in mind that the big successes in this nascent funding arena are truly few and far in between.
It seems that telecommuting—the choice to work from home, your boat, or anywhere else for that matter—is at the forefront of a national debate, largely due to the recent decision by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to require Yahoo’s employees to work from the office. In other words, she wants her team to have a physical presence on the Yahoo campus.
This decision immediately prompted a flurry of blogs, news articles, and general debate around the value of telecommuting flexibility versus the inflexibility of having to work at the office. Of course, in reality, this is not an all or nothing decision for a company because, frankly, it would be difficult for most companies to have their employees work from home (think automobile manufacturers, WalMart, Starbucks, or Johnson and Johnson). But for many companies whose employees spend their time on the computer or the telephone, where they work might not be a critical issue.
Recently, Joel Kotkin, an authority on global, economic and political, and social trends, wrote in Forbes about what he sees as Marissa Mayer’s Misstep in telling her employees they would have to start commuting again. The reason this edict presents such a challenge for the employees is that Yahoo’s headquarters is located in pricey Palo Alto, so most employees have to find housing at a significant commuting distance to be able to afford it. Kotkin’s article presents some great statistics on the benefits of telecommuting, not the least of which is, according to a study by the consulting firm Workshifting, a 27 percent increase in productivity. In addition, telecommuting provides workplace flexibility for working parents. Kotkin even proclaims that we’re looking at the workplace of the future. In fact, most of the research conducted on this subject over the past 20 years has found positive benefits when employed appropriately.
But I would caution that we not paint a broad brush over this rosy picture. Not everyone is more productive working from home. In fact, one study in a peer-reviewed journal found that neurotic individuals viewed telecommuting very favorably, while more emotionally stable individuals were not as enthusiastic about it (Clark et al., 2012, “Telecommuting Attitudes and the ‘Big Five’ Personality Dimensions” in the Journal of Management Policy and Practice). An interesting perspective, to be sure, (and the complete opposite finding from what they had hypothesized) but there can be some real negatives to working mostly from home if you’re an employee in a large company. They include
Squishy boundaries between work and home time
Harder to get yourself noticed and heard for promotion purposes
Not feeling connected to the rest of the team.
Loss of the benefits of non-verbal communication for understanding difficult issues.
And for employers like Marissa Mayer, there are security concerns, difficulty providing effective oversight, and perhaps most importantly, the challenge to creating a sustainable and beneficial culture in the company. It has certainly been my experience that when you get a team together in a room to focus on a task (with their cell phones off), people will pay attention and engage more effectively. By contrast, I have been on more than one teleconference or Go-to-Meeting type meeting where it was clear that everyone on the call was multi-tasking, which means they weren’t giving their full attention to anything they were doing at the time. “Joe, what do you think about Jane’s proposal?” “Joe?....Joe?” Pause. “Oh, hi, this is Joe…I’m here. Can you repeat the question?” After the fifth time that happens during the call, you know the meeting has not been very productive.
Mayer probably shouldn’t have gone the all or nothing route in her declaration about telecommuting but she has succeeded in bringing the issue front and center for everyone to debate. I personally believe there is a hybrid solution that will make everyone happy. What that solution is depends on the kind of company you have and the needs of the people you employ; but the important thing to recognize is that telecommuting is here to stay. So let’s find a way to take advantage of it so that we can give our employees more flexibility to do their best.
How we see the world--our leadership perspective--shapes our thoughts, decisions, and actions. That perspective is based on the sum total of our knowledge, experiences, and choices up till now. It represents the way we view ourselves and situations, how we judge the relative importance of things, and how we establish a meaningful relationship with others and everything around us.
Lots of leaders are smart, but few are wise. Smart leaders view the world through lenses that skew or limit their perspective, affecting their decisions and actions. Some focus on short-term goals and on deepening their depth of knowledge in their domain of interest. Others have a long-term vision that enables them to differentiate various patterns and see how these will help them succeed. Both perspectives are limiting.
When they remove those lenses, smart leaders gain a broader perspective, which gives them the opportunity to become wise. By changing their "smart" perspective and cultivating practical wisdom instead, they can lay the foundation for a wise leadership style that's more effective.
With the wise leader perspective, one is able to continually reframe and reinterpret events through integration and find new meanings within a rapidly changing context. Guided by a noble purpose, wise leaders cultivate a flexible and resilient mindset that helps them act and lead with wisdom--and become more influential leaders.
To move from a smart leader perspective to a wise leader perspective, start by seeing the world through new lenses. Here are six ways to do it.
For a new view, move outside of your comfort zone.
Getting outside your comfort zone is a quick way to experience leadership from a new perspective. In early 2000, while awaiting the court decision in the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, Bill Gates decided to step down as chief executive and focus on his passion for software. This jolted his perspective, and that same year, Gates and his wife established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, taking his leadership in an important new direction. Where is it that you are holding on to an old and unworkable mindset? What extreme step you can take to experience and lead yourself differently?
Know your limitations, and try to see beyond them.
Senior managers at Allianz Global Investors, a global asset management company, attended a workshop called Dialogue in the Dark, led by visually impaired trainers who conducted the entire workshop in total darkness. The goal of this experiential learning program was to shift leaders' perspectives by making them aware of their limitations, while increasing empathy for others. What is your biggest limitation of today? How did you get to have it and how do you plan to transcend it?
Take off your glasses and look through fresh eyes.
Sometimes, shifting one's perspective is as simple as really seeing what's in front of you. When Alan Mulally took over as CEO of Ford, the company was losing market share and facing deep losses because of increased competition and globalization. One day, when walking through the Ford parking lot at Detroit headquarters, Mulally suddenly noticed the hodgepodge of Ford brands that had no common attributes in shape or style. This moment of clear-sightedness led to Ford's trimming its bloated portfolio of 97 models to just 20, selling off Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin in the process, and focusing on smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. What do you need to "unlearn and let go of" so that increased focus on what you have could make you very effective and successful?
Let crisis spark an epiphany and change your outlook.
Crisis can spark epiphanies, so pay attention to what your next crisis has to teach you about perspective. While in a WWII German concentration camp for three years, Victor Frankl realized one day that although the Nazis could torture his body, they had zero control over his mind or spirit. This empowering shift in perspective helped him survive and then to inspire his fellow prisoners to take control of their own mindset. What is the fear that you are attempting to run away from? How do you pay attention to it so that you can walk through the other side of desperation and discover something very new?
Seek out unlikely connections and juxtapositions.
Ophthalmologist Dr. Venkataswamy created a revolutionary approach to curing blindness in India by studying McDonald's. He was able to develop a high-efficiency, standardized, repeatable business model that organized patients in operating rooms and broke the procedure down into a series of discrete processes so that nurses and doctors could quickly move from one patient to the next. His company, Aravind, is now the largest eye care provider in the world. What unlikely metaphors and connections can help you come up with an innovative mental model and a business model for your work?
Let talks and books inspire a new perspective.
The CEO of a well-known tech firm attended a talk on service-oriented organizations, including the generosity-driven Karma Kitchen, where anyone can eat for free in exchange for committing to volunteer in the restaurant in the future. He was so inspired by the talk that he acted completely out of character and drove straight to the hospital to spend four hours at the bedside of his 80-year-old neighbor. When did you last get inspired by a talk or a book? What actions did you take?
Recently Fortunepublished a typology of hackers, six different types of individuals who represent what hacking seems to be about today—cyber terrorism (I summarize them below). Unlike original hackers from the early days of computing such as John Draper (aka Captain Crunch) and Steve Wozniak, the hacker ethic seems to have disappeared in favor of a growing computer underground that by some measures costs the average company $8.9 million a year in cybercrime.
I once had the pleasure of hanging out with Brad Feld for a bit in Boulder, Colorado when I was doing some work on one of start-up biz growth expert Jana Matthews' books. Brad is a very successful early stage technology investor and entrepreneur. I just noticed that Brad is running an interesting competition where he will select up to five entrepreneurs with innovative startups to live rent-free in his Kansas City house, which comes complete with the remarkable new Google Fiber Internet connection (which runs at a modem-melting 1 Gigabit per second -- about 100 times faster than what most Americans are able to conjure up on a good day.
Since 2008, I have been working behind the scenes on a book about a little company by the name of Network Solutions, Inc (NSI -- the book will be published in May 2013). For much of the 1990s, NSI was the only seller of domain names -- all those .com, .org, and .net and other website addresses that make the Internet run. One of the best things about working on this project is that I had the opportunity to interview some of the early movers and shakers of the Internet -- men and women who played significant roles in its development and growth. One of those people is Esther Dyson, who served as the founding chairman of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and was an early investor in dotcom businesses. Today she is an angel investor in a variety of start-ups, mostly in the areas of online services, health care/genetics, and space travel.
When did we as a society decide that achieving supernormal success disqualifies a person from inspiring or helping others find their path to success? When did being successful mean that you no longer understand what it’s like to fail? And, most of all, when did we stop respecting others’ right to their opinions and start attacking people personally in mean-spirited ways just because we disagree with them or are envious of them?
In case you didn't get the memo, Daylight Savings Time is returning this weekend, and we're going to lose an hour from our already jam-packed lives. To help offset this loss, I was asked to come up with some ideas for ways to save an hour. These ideas were posted on the Inc. magazine online site this morning. Here are the first 11 -- to see the complete list of 24, you'll need to check out the article:
I was recently browsing the Net and I ran across a listing in forbes.com of the 14 things successful people do on weekends. Intrigued, I decided to see if I was doing any of them myself, and if so, how many. Fortunately, the answers to these two questions were "Yes" and "More than 1."
If we’ve learned anything from the recent bout of Web company implosions following IPOs, it’s that just because you’re a founder doesn’t mean you’ll make a great CEO and going public is not everything it’s cracked up to be.